By RON FANFAIR
Declaring the late Harry Jerome one the greatest Canadian athletes of all-time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the awards that honour his memory recognize Canadians of African heritage who are making their mark in every field of human endeavour.
The Prime Minister was the keynote speaker at last Saturday night’s 28th annual Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA)-administered Harry Jerome awards recognizing 14 of “the best and brightest” in the African-Canadian community.
Jerome equaled Percy Williams’ national high school record with a 10-second run in the 100-yard dash in March 1959, won gold medals in the 100-metre sprint at the 1966 Commonwealth and 1967 Pan American Games, set seven world records, defended his national 100-metre sprint title in his last official race in August 1969 and established the parameters for the creation of the federal Ministry of Sport before succumbing to a brain aneurysm at age 42 in December 1982.
“How fitting that his name should be attached to these awards so that his distinguished achievement should serve as an inspiration for the generations to follow,” said Harper, who congratulated this year’s winners, saying they and past recipients have two things in common despite their diversity. “First, a connection, however distant, to the continent of Africa and, second, the qualities of ambition and drive. That is the heritage and those are the qualities that you are celebrating tonight.”
Harper said Black Canadians are role models who seek to make their communities and the country a better place and he singled out former Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first Black Governor General Michaëlle Jean, entrepreneur Michael Lee-Chin, senator Donald Oliver and Juno award winner K’naan, whose hit single, Wavin’ Flag has morphed into an anthem for Haiti and this summer’s soccer World Cup in South Africa, as shining stars whose achievements are significant and noteworthy.
He also paid tribute to the late Jamaican cultural ambassador, Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverley, who spent the last two decades of her life in Ontario before passing away four years ago, and Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, who along with three other Canadian soldiers were killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan eight years ago when an American F-16 fighter jet dropped a bomb during a live-fire training exercise near Kandahar. A total of 142 Canadian soldiers have died in the hostile territory.
“His is a different story, as sad as it is noble,” said Harper. “He was young, brave and dedicated and he qualified as a paratrooper…He made the ultimate sacrifice. We have been speaking this evening of how people of this community have contributed to our country. You could not give more than Cpl. Dyer gave. He was a true Canadian hero.
“As this small sample of outstanding Canadians suggests, what we loosely call the Black community in Canada is actually drawn across many different eras and from many different countries and backgrounds…Canada has been immeasurably enriched by such a broad array of ethno-cultural traditions.”
Jerome passed away just days before being invited to deliver the keynote address to celebrate the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games record performances of a new breed of Caribbean-born athletes who left an indelible mark on the sport in Canada.
Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor David Onley noted that Jerome, in addition to being an outstanding athlete, was an advocate for social change and fairness, adding “his medals were the measure of his athletic victories and his dedication to equality was the measure of the man”.
“Throughout his life, he fought to eradicate systemic barriers that prevented people of colour from achieving true equality,” said Onley. “In competition, he ran the short distance events, but he ran the long distance against equality and injustice.”
This year’s winners included Harry Jerome awards co-founder Hamlin Grange who also conceived the idea for the scholarship program and the BBPA logo; Canada’s first Black Citizenship Court judge and World War II veteran Stanley Grizzle, 91, who was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement award; University of Toronto associate professor and the Hospital for Sick Children staff physician Dr. Lisa Robinson whose research interest focuses on white cell trafficking and strategies to interrupt white cell influx into specifically targeted organs and Nova Scotia-based Dr. Abdullah Kirumira who is credited with inventing the world’s first rapid-acting HIV diagnostic test that produces results in three minutes.
Business executive and Ontario Judicial Council member Delores Lawrence, who has been on Profit Magazine’s Canada’s Top 100 Women’s Entrepreneur list for the past seven years; armed conflict expert and University of Alberta Political Science professor Dr. Anderson Knight; Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization executive director and tireless community worker Winston LaRose; community-oriented initiatives frontline worker and administrator Akwatu Khenti who is responsible for developing and managing the Substance Abuse Program for African-Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) based on Afrocentric principles, health promotion and prevention; artist Michael Chambers who was recently honoured by the National Film Board of Canada for his contributions to photography and social activism and media practitioner Ron Fanfair were also presented awards.
The Harry Jerome youth award winners were University of Toronto Masters student and youth worker Kwesi Johnson; youth activist and York University PhD student Saron Gebresellassi; Thomas Tewoldemedhin who founded TNTech Canada which is the largest on-site paging service company in Canada and Birchmount Park Collegiate Grade 12 student-athlete Aaron Brown who made national track and field history by becoming the first Canadian to clinch a medal at the World Youth championships.
Brown, last year’s silver medalist in the 100-metre dash, has committed to the University of Southern California (USC) on a track scholarship.
This year’s award recipients shared the spotlight with the BBPA founders who were honoured with awards for their vision in establishing the organization that promotes excellence and inspires educational advancement through the Harry Jerome awards and the national Black scholarship program.
The founders were former presidents Denham Jolly and Cynthia Reyes, Hamlin Grange, Jean Augustine, Pamela Appelt, Kamala-Jean Gopie, Bromley Armstrong and the late Al Hamilton and Al Mercury. BBPA president Pauline Christian made the presentations.
The BBPA also paid tribute to pianist, composer and arranger Washington Savage and singer-songwriter Haydain Neale who passed away last year. A minute’s silence was observed for the talented musicians who shared their artistry at previous Harry Jerome award events.
Among the large turnout at this year’s awards were Debbie Jerome, the daughter of Harry Jerome; Canada’s Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney; New Democratic Party of Canada leader Jack Layton; Liberal MP Ron Oliphant; Ontario Minister of Health Promotion Margarett Best; Ontario Cabinet chair and Deputy House leader Gerry Phillips; Ontario Citizenship and Immigration Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins; Ontario Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak, Ontario New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath, Toronto Mayor David Miller, Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler, provincial Superior Court judge Michael Tulloch, former Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader John Tory, outgoing York Regional Police Chief Armand LaBarge, Toronto Police Service Deputy Chiefs Keith Forde and Peter Sloly and CARICOM Consuls General Jenny Gumbs (Grenada) and George Ramocan (Jamaica).